The lesions caused by cold sores and canker sores may appear and feel similar, but they actually have different causes.

    COLD SORES

    typically form on and around your lips and are caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). In a few cases, typically with children under the age of 5, they may form inside of your mouth, but typically not in adults.

    ** Cold sores ARE contagious.

    Cold sores are caused by infection with specific strains of HSV. (Herpes Simplex Virus) HSV-1 is the strain that most commonly causes cold sores. However, HSV-2, the strain that causes genital herpes, can also cause cold sores in and around the oral cavity.

    HSV is very contagious. The virus is most contagious when oozing cold sores are present, although it can be transmitted even if cold sores aren’t present.  HSV-1 can be spread through things such as sharing eating utensils or toothbrushes, or through kissing.

    They can also be caused by aerosols, (coughing, sneezing, or even talking loudly). For the safety of the dental office personnel, any patient arriving with an active, wet cold sore will be rescheduled. For patients with a history of cold sores, in the event you have the typical pre-outbreak symptoms or an active lesion, please contact the office in advance to reschedule your visit. We are at a high risk of getting infected via the aerosol spray generated during routine dental procedures. There have been recorded cases of dentists and hygienists getting it through their skin if skin is exposed (short sleeved scrubs, for example).  So, if you have it, be aware of just how contagious it is during flare-ups!

    After you’ve contracted the infection, some factors may lead to the development of cold sores, including:

    • stress
    • fatigue
    • being sick with the flu or a cold
    • sunlight exposure
    • changes in hormones, such as during menstruation
    • irritation to the area where you have cold sores, which can be due to injury, dental work, or cosmetic surgery

     

    CANKER SORES (Aphthous ulcers)

    are annoying ulcers that can affect anyone.  Canker sores occur only in the soft tissues of the mouth, like on your gums or the insides of your cheeks, and can be caused by a variety of factors, including an injury to the inside of your mouth or vitamin deficiencies. They are often brought on by stress of one type or another.

    ** Canker sores ARE NOT contagious.

     

    They can arise singly or in small clusters on the inside of your lips or cheeks, on your gums, your soft palate, or on or underneath your tongue. They typically have a white or yellow center and a red border. They can be extremely painful. They also occur more frequently in people using toothpastes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate. You can also help yourself by avoiding citrus juices and other acid containing foods like tomato sauces. Stick to a bland diet if you experience an outbreak.

    Possible triggers can be one or more of the following:

    • injury to the inside of your mouth
    • deficiency in nutrients such as vitamin B-12, iron, or folate
    • use of toothpastes or mouthwashes that contain sodium lauryl sulfate (a chemical added to some toothpaste and acts as a detergent. If you suffer often from canker sores, be sure the toothpaste you are using does not contain that ingredient!)
    • stress
    • fluctuations in hormones
    • a reaction to foods such as chocolate, nuts, or spicy foods
    • conditions that affect your immune system, such as Lupus and Inflammatory Bowel Disorder

    There are a few types of canker sores:

    • Minor canker sores. These may show up 3-4 times a year, typically occur in people ages 10 to 20,  are less than 1 centimeter across and heal in about a week with no scarring.
    • Major canker sores. These are less common. The ulcers are bigger and can last more than 2 weeks. They often heal with scarring.
    • Herpetiform canker sores. These are rare and show up as clusters of tiny ulcers and usually heal in about a week.

    Remedies for relief:

    Many people have also found various home remedies or products at health food stores that they find helpful in these situations, but there is no one product that works for everyone. There are also some topical medications I can prescribe that can provide some relief.

    Canker sores are a nuisance and can be very uncomfortable, but luckily, they are not serious. I usually tell patients that if I treat them, they will go away in a week and if we do nothing, they will go away in seven days! With that said, don’t hesitate to call for an appointment if there is any doubt in your mind as to whether what you have is a canker sore or something more serious. If you get them regularly and find you have one that seems to linger longer than normal, we should see you and check it out. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!